The Historama
Alex Ben-Arieh
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Tel Aviv, Israel 61321
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Israeli Militaria Primer

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Given that the Israel Defense Forces are based on numerous complex roots, like the Hagana, Palmach etc., each with its own organization and history, there were a number of ways in which this material could be presented. To make nagivation, information access and update as easy as possible, I've chosen to create this "primer" on a formation-by-formation basis, with clear starting and ending lines for each unit. At the moment, this page will focus on the IDF from the moment of its foundation in 1948, onwards. This page will cover the Israeli Army, Navy and Air Force; hopefully the Border Guard, Police and SLA will be included here too.

This page, like some others on this site, is organic - prepared in the absence of much literature in English or Hebrew, with (at the moment) no assistance from government bodies and mis-functioning military websites, in a field of militaria with almost no literary foundations. As a result information here will be constantly revised, updated and corrected. It's not a final authority on Israeli militaria now, but hopefully in time it will develop into a source written with finality and certainty. In the meantime I hope you find the materials here helpful and I invite your suggestions, questions and contributions.




UNIFORMS & SHOULDER STRAPS
In order to introduce the subject, we'll begin with basis for militaria - the uniforms, on which all other militaria is connected. Once we understand what kinds of uniforms existed in the IDF, we'll be able to learn where insignia was worn; and from there it will be easier to branch off into subsequent specializations like campaign ribbons, headwear, belts and so on.

In this section, we'll get introduced to the 3 standard varieties of uniforms which exist in all our services - our "Dress" or "Service Uniform" (known as "Uniform-A", or "Madei Alef" in Hebrew), our "Battle Dress" or "Work Uniform" (known as "Uniform-B", or "Madei Bet" in Hebrew), and our rarely seen/used "Ceremonial Uniform" (called "Madei Sharad" in Hebrew). My distinctions may diverge from official military deliniations: I relegate all tunics and jackets to that last category as they have never formed part of our standard dress code, and also because their basis - the shirt beneath - is the element of the uniform we really see most often (and that I relegate to the section on dress/service uniforms).

We will also get introduced to service-arm uniforms, for the Navy, Air Force, armoured services and any other special pieces for specific units (particularly camoflauge, which is rare in our forces).

To begin this section we should be aware of the following standards in the IDF:
  1. Our "uniform" is really just a two-pocketed shirt and set of pants with multiple pockets (whose material of manufacture is a function of the branch of service in which the uniform is worn). There are no other special pieces issued to soldiers on a standard basis (i.e. such as tunics or ceremonial jackets) - any additional pieces are issued as needed: jackets, for cold climates; sweaters, for cold climates; skirts, for religious female soldiers; etc.

  2. Except for the highest levels of command (General Staff), no other soldiers are issued a special "Ceremonial" uniform (here I'm distinguishing between the actual ceremonial "jacket" and the shirt worn beneath. I may allocate coverage of these shirts to the section on "Madei Alef"). The mass of the military therefore is just issued with a dress / service uniform ("Madei Alef") and a near identical battle dress / work uniform ("Madei Bet"). The only distinction in uniforms between the Army, Navy and Air Force - and Border Guard (a paramilitary section of the Police, and not of the Military) - is the color of the uniform and the type of its fabric. There is a better quality of make for dress shirts for NCOs and senior officers of Major and higher.

  3. The military dress code requires that the top button of the uniform (shirt) be left open - it is forbidden to close it. And as long as the shirt sleeves are rolled up above the elbow, the uniform may be worn with sleeves rolled up - even for ceremonies. However, the manner in which the sleeves are rolled is supposed to be as per a certain style: even folds of about 3 cm each.

  4. On a historical note, particularly during the IDF's first years, we must remember that the military was formed from several existing units, so in her initial years the IDF displayed a degree of un-uniformity in appearance. Some of her roots were domestic (i.e. the Haganah) and some from abroad (i.e. the Jewish Brigade Group); some were "legal" and connected to the British Mandatory/Government authorities, and others were underground anti-British forces. Most of pre-State Israel's armed formations had a British connection, so much material - like uniforms - came from British origins; formations domestically formed, especially those which operated underground, may have been equipped with locally produced material - either unique in its appearance, or similar to British issue.


A Crash-Course in Early Foreign Uniform Identification
Although the IDF adhered to an obvious standard of wearing better looking uniforms for service wear and rougher looking articles for work and battle wear, much of its initial stocks - whether used or just derived from other foreign armies - included articles from the lower, more informal end of an army's attire: "drill" or working kit, shirts and the like; less emphasis on tunics and proper "dress" attire (as defined in other armies) ...And there are the stocks of carry-overs from the pre-State armed Jewish formations adding more complexity to the picture.

And since much of the military's early attire was of this low-end simple nature, on the surface it could be dismissed as a heterogenious mass of foreign clothes all using the same materials. A headache of an issue for the layman to sort out. But it's not all similar (for better or worse), and in order to distinguish sources of uniforms from this mass, we have to know what details to look for. With period color photographs scarce to come by, we have to rely on analytical skills in confronting black and white and often unclear photographs.

Being that this is an "organic" document which will develop and be corrected along the way, I'm additing this section as a sort of "thinking out aloud" corner to explain the manner by which I shall be trying to discern the origins of the IDF's early uniforms. With that, we'll become 5-minute experts in the finer details of British and American - and possibly even Canadian or even German uniforms, particularly drill and work uniforms. A better scholar than myself in these fields could probably name 100 different details to look out for, but I'm going to focus primarily on buttons and pant belt loops for the time being:

BUTTONS:
USA (and 1 French):

A US Army plastic button (from an M41 jacket)

A US Army plastic
shirt button

A US Army metal "13-star" button

A US Marine Corps metal button (from an M41 Herringbone Twill - "HBT" - shirt). Deceptively small in this picture, it actually has a thick wide frame and is similar in size to the second plastic British button below. Not as small as today's jean-pant rivets.

A US Marine Corps metal button (from M44 "grenade pocket" pants)

French styled red-brown wooden disk button from a pair of tropical shorts.

United Kingdom & Canada:
A salent difference between British and American buttons is the "dip" in the surface: American buttons have a bulge in the center whereas British ones have a curved depression in the center. Canadian and British plastic buttons look similar but Canadian metal ones bear a pattern similar to American plastic buttons.

A British Army plastic button (from a khaki drill uniform). Unique to all other plastic buttons here this one is just a solid curve-faced 'clump'.

A British Army brown plastic button (from a P40 battle-dress uniform). Although the pictures here are not to scale, this button is larger than the others in this whole section.

A British Army metal button (from a khaki wool collarless shirt).

A British army metal button (from tropical battle dress shorts). Same as previous button - just included to have additional reference.

A Canadian Army plastic button (from 1937 battle dress pants). Looks similar to the large British plastic battle dress button.

A Canadian Army metal button (from 1940 drill pants).

Germany (former Third Reich):
A distasteful thought, but period German plastic and thin metal buttons with a dish-bowl shape do look similar to British ones - especially in photos lacking sharp detail.
3 Metal Tunic Buttons and 3 other metal and wooden buttons:

Tunic button in standard field gray color common to most of Wehrmacht, with bumpy surface visible.

Similar metal button but in brown, from a Luftwaffe tropical shirt.

Similar metal button from a tropical jacket, in black color.

A brown plastic 4-holed button visible on many military uniforms.

A blue-gray plastic button from a Wehrmacht undershirt.

A variant of the standard thin metal "dish" buttons (see below), this one with thicker frames.

Thin Metal "Dish" Buttons:

Example of a standard thin zinc 4-holed metal "dish" button, from a field gray Wehrmacht work uniform of drill material. Thread stitching varies on these buttons lending them an appearance of difference between these "dish" buttons.

Another image of the dish button, this time from a pair of Afrika Korps lightweight tropical breeches.

Oxidized zinc dish button from Army tropical shorts. Note the different thread stitch pattern here.

Oxidized dish button with vertical stitching, from Kriegsmarine tropical shorts.

Painted dish button from a Luftwaffe tropical short sleeve shirt; supposed to be brown in color. Vertical stitching.

Brown painted dish button from a Luftwaffe tropical long sleeve shirt; supposed to be brown in color. Vertical stitching.

PANT LOOPS
USA, UK and Canada:

US Army M43 trouser loop details.

US Army M43 paratrooper trouser loops.

US Army khaki boxer short loops.

British Army tropical battle dress shorts loops. Note the fold over button down flaps - a key distinguishing detail.

Canadian Army model 1937 battle-dress pant loops. Note the exclusive appearance of button down flaps - as opposed to on US pants.



DRESS / SERVICE UNIFORMS ("MADEI-ALEF")
Presenting the dress / service uniforms on it's own from 1948 poses a small problem for the 'teacher' insofar that from 1948 until 1952, there actually wasn't a formal distinction made between dress and work uniforms. A "dress" uniform was simply a cleaner, better decorated version of a work/battle dress uniform. (Ironically to a large degree such an blurring of the lines exists to this day, although these days it is possible to positively distinguish between these two types of dress.)

Also, as shoulder strap designs have not undergone major changes since 1948, and are an integral part of our uniform, their appearance will be included in our coverage of uniforms (the development of their nomenclature, however will appear in a separate section). As regards differences in their appearance on dress and service uniforms, the key general distinction is this: on dress uniforms they are physical, relief, stamped attachments and on work/battle uniforms they are printed on fabric slide-ons. Examples will be highlighted in the pictures.

Here are some examples of IDF ground forces dress uniforms (shirt uniforms, not tunic uniforms - see the "Ceremonial" uniform section for actual tunics) from the period 1948-49:

Ya'akov Dori, 1948: the first IDF Chief of Staff in characteristic dress, with rolled sleeves and light-khaki shirt. The stitch lines on the collar, along side the buttons and pockets suggest the good quality of the manufacture; from some angles dress uniforms also exhibit a surface shine in the light, as here. Note the flat pocket flaps on this styled shirt; pocket flaps and stitching vary on IDF uniforms over time. In subsequent pictures something flat and rectangular may be visible in soldiers' front pockets - that's supposed to be their notebooks or military ID card, known in Hebrew as a "Kartis Khoger".

Dori's shoulder patch denotes his rank as a Lieutenant-General - the highest rank in the military - and is unique in IDF militaria for its appearance: his patch was the only one of that design, based as it was on the 1948 designs of rank on shoulder straps. It is a round fabric patch on a cloth slider, which displays a "Falafel" (a leaf-like emblem) surrounded by a wreath of olive branches. In 1949 the format of rankings would change, and below we shall see the subsequent design for Lieut.-Gen. rank.

Analyzing the origins of Dori's uniform raises a few questions: though not shown in entirely this picture, his shirt and pants look American in design - the shirt buttons, un-scalloped pocket flaps and slanted pant pockets; he appears to wear the US Army cotton khaki summer uniform. Though American shirts didn't have shoulder straps, the pre-State "Hagana" defense force of which Dori was the commander also wore similar shirts without them, therefore it may be that these were added on domestically afterwards. American pants also don't have the button-down flaps on the pants (one visible in the foreground, the second just visible past the belt hook, and another under his hand), though pictures of Hagana men do show such devices on their pants. These too may have been added in country over the years. While tempting to suggest that there may be a Canadian connection here (referring to the loop sample above), all the IDF pants with these tabs have the buttons at the base, not the top, of the tab as on Canadian pants. In this regard, these tabs are "British styled" as per the pant loop samples above.


Ya'akov Dori, 1949: in a dark winter-dress shirt (see comments below on winter dress), sporting the second version of shoulder ranks introduced in 1949: a stitched smaller "falafel" surrounded an by olive wreath, on a cloth slider. This more compact combined symbol forms the basis of the IDF's officer ranks. The shirt color, buttons and pocket flaps look very similar to a brown American wartime European Theater shirt.

Subsequent pictures of Dori, like one of him in 1950 as a retired Lieut.-Gen., will show him wearing still different styles of his ranks - in conformity with the developing formats created in the IDF's first four years.
Photo: Perelman, p. 48
Col. Yosef Avidar, 1948-49: commander of the northern regional command, also in a similar shirt to Dori. His shoulder straps are of the earliest version, in thin, stiff cloth attached to a fabric slider (the three "Falafel" leaves denote him as a Colonel). By 1950-51, the cloth shoulder insignia for dress uniforms would be replaced by stamped metal versions of these symbols, for attachment onto a slider for wear on the shoulder strap.
Photo: Perelman, p. 86
Standard bearer for the armoured forces at an Army Day parade in July 1949. Here the complete dress uniform (with pants) is visible. His outfit looks identical to Dori's (above; probably American cotton khaki summer dress), including the two button-down pant flaps visible here.




CATCHING UP: Let's take a pause and recollect materials to confirm some of our findings so far. Below we have some period piece color pictures of the American khaki uniform. The first is of the Pacific Theater of Operations Allied Supreme Commander, General Douglas MacArthur, in Japan, 1945, with his staff. It's not easy to locate pictures of this uniform with the straight-lined pocket flaps as seen here - many photos show American troops with corner-cropped shirt pockets. The shirts seen here do have shoulder straps, and the same number of buttons as in the photos above (and below) - 4, with the top fifth button left open.

The next photo, of MacArthur in liberated Manila on 2 August 1945, shows a sharper close-up of his shirt details, however here though his pockets are straight-flapped, the bottom corners are cropped (the shirts in the previous picture look straight all around). Note its surface shine.

The last picture, in black and white, is of the nascent IDF in action, in 1948: here the "service" shirt is being worn in the battlefield (a common occurence) by a "Negev" brigade staff officer on the right (to his right is the brigade's operations chief and future commander of Central Regional Command in the 1967 Six-Day war, Uzi Narkis, and on the far left is the brigade commander, Nachum Sarig). Though not in color, the IDF's khaki shirt looks identical to those seen in the previous pictures of the Americans in the Pacific.
Photo: Batty, p. 134 Photo: Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives Photo: Ziv & Gelber, p. 182

The pant flaps: although we recognize that the pant waist loop flaps seen above may be a uniquely Israeli feature, lets observe a few pre-War photographs to appreciate its ubiquitousness amongst the Israeli pre-State forces. The implication here is that I have not yet seen pictures of British (or other Allied) soldiers with identical styled flaps.
Photo: Ziv & Gelber, p. 90
The 'Irgun', 1937: the underground 'Irgun' organization on presentation. Note the fighter third from behind and right of the leader in the forefront - and the thick pant loop flap visible.
Photo: Ha'Deni, p. 314
Jewish Eretz-Israel volunteers in a desert-digging unit in transit from Egypt to Greece, March 1941. Note the pant loop flaps visible around the waist of the soldier leaning on the railing. He's in a shirt and 1937 British battle dress pants; those around him are in the complete 1937 British battle dress uniform (and so their pant waists are not visible here).
Photo: Ziv & Gelber, p. 100
The 'Palmach', circa. 1941-45: formed from 'Hagana' members, the force initially served under the British, and after disbandment in 1942, underground for the Hagana until 1948. Note the visible waist flap on the soldier at the far right.
Photo: Ziv & Gelber, p. 113
The Jewish Brigade, circa. 1945: members being greeted by Moshe (Shertok) Sharett, the the Jewish Agency's (i.e. the Jewish Community in Palestine's Government) 'ambassador' to the British and head of the recruitment drive. Note the clearly visible flap (with button at bottom) on the side of the soldier shaking his hand. Strangely a similar flap is not visible on the shorts of the next soldier down.




Photo: Perelman, p. 6
Army Day Parade 1949: at the IDF's first parade, in July 1949 - Dori (at right) with the Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, and the President, Chaim Weizmann. Against a backdrop of ceremony, suits and ties (Ben-Gurion loathed ties), and plush chairs, even at this level of distinction the Army's dress uniform is informal (though unlike the picture of the bearer above, here the commanders are wearing shoes and not boots).

The uniforms are all bare shirts (except for the shoulder straps) because the first campaign ribbon was only introduced in 1951. It looks like the first two officers on the left have pressed their collar flaps down. The American belts add more credibility to the notion that the basis for these uniforms is American, however Dori's pant waist is lined with a series of wide button-down flaps (as seen in the picture of him above). One curious detail is what appears to be the uncharacteristic white glove on Dori's saluting hand. The officer on the far left may be wearing a brassard on his left arm, but it's unclear.
Photo: Perelman, p. 92
A Druze unit during the same 1949 parade. Presented differently but wearing the same dress uniform as elsewhere. It's difficult to discern but this column may be wearing shoulder straps on their shirts (one source says shoulder strap ranks were introduced a week after the foundation of the IDF, in June 1948). One interesting detail here are the white colored belts - to be examined in a different section below.

Initial developments 1949-52: (as they relate to dress / service uniforms) in the beginning of 1949 the IDF instituted the wear of Summer and Winter uniforms: summer uniforms were of cotton in light-khaki color (probably all based on the American design seen above), and including shorts; winter uniforms featured specifically woolen dark khaki tunics and overcoats (probably the brown colored former "European Theater" shirts of the US Army; both to be covered in separate subject sections below). The IDF continued to maintain separate summer and winter uniforms until 1978, when the summer uniform style became the standard format of dress - shorts having been discarded long before, sometime just after the War of Independence.

Around 1949-50 the IDF intituted the use of metal-stamped shoulder-strap ranks in place of the thin rigid cloth pieces attached to the shoulder-strap sliders, on Madei Alef uniforms. Since then, this has been one of the key distinguishing devices beween 'Alef' and 'Bet' uniforms.

Also at the start of the 1950's the military instituted the wear of shoulder "tags" - long, round or shield-tipped plastic-fabric tags stitched to the left shoulder of a [summer] shirt or [winter] jacket or sweater. Although pre-State formations had worn such devices before, they were absent on uniforms of the War of Independence. These hallmarks of IDF militaria will be covered in a separate section below.

Finally, in April 1952, the military did adopt regulations to distinguish between dress/service uniforms and work/battle-dress uniforms. The appearance of especially marked and manufactured work/battle-dress uniforms will be covered in a separate section below.

Photo: Pearlman, p. 158
New recruits, circa. 1949: being inspected by the future Chief of Staff, Chaim Laskov. These recruits wear the summer cotton uniform of light khaki, particularly the shorts. What seems to denote these outfits as dress / service uniforms are the dress shoes, with socks pulled up high. Though to be covered separately, it's difficult to ignore the detail of the belts - it looks like these metal interlocking thick canvas belts were worn by ordinary soldiers both in 'Alef' and in 'Bet' uniforms (as we shall see in the 'Bet' uniform section), as opposed to officers at the levels of Colonel or General, who, as we see in the above picture with the Prime Minister, wore thinner American-styled belts with a rectangular metal buckle.
Photo: IDF Spokesman
Lieut.-Gen. Mordechai Makleff circa. 1952 as Chief of Staff. Here he wears the fourth and final version of the should straps ranks, with a Lieut.-Gen. rank depicted as a crossed sword and olive branch followed by two "falafel" leaves. This and the next photograph afford us the rare opportunity to see both forms of "dress" version shoulder straps in wear during the same period. Worn on his dress uniform, these are the original type, of rigid fabric pieces stuck onto the slider.

Mordechai Makleff circa. 1952 as Chief of Staff. Seen here wearing a Madei Alef shirt with the newly instituted metal rank symbols on his shoulder straps. In later years, these symbols on [ground forces] 'Alef' uniforms would be replaced by similar ones made of golden finished stamped plastic on a red backing. On Makleff's shirt, there is no backing to his tags.

Whether it's the flash or the true light color of the buttons in both pictures, by this time (1952) these service uniforms may have already been manufactured entirely domestically.

Photo: Pearlman, p. 206 Naval parade, circa. 1949 in Haifa. Unfortunately not a clear picture, but it gives us a rough idea of what standard parade dress looked like in those days - a few unique accountrements (to be covered further below) but otherwise similar in pattern to regular ground forces, though specifically with gaitors. I don't have a complimentary photograph of Air Force dress uniforms to include at the moment, but both branches, like the ground forces, wore light khaki uniforms at the time. Though it falls outside the scope of this section, we should note that the INF wore both visored hats as well as "Donald Duck" (also known as "Popeye") berets.

Most of these IDF parade pictures were taken during the July Army Day parade, so we can surmise that even in summer the Navy's dress uniform included long pants (and not shorts, as above).

In the early 1950's the IDF also started to produce domestically made and styled uniforms, and by mid-decade began to introduce into use new olive colored uniforms. These were instituted into the ground forces, gradually replacing the light khaki pieces (which in turn became the work/battle dress uniforms instead). The Navy and Air Force as well as other support corps continued to wear light khaki in the meantime, however.

Moshe Dayan as a profile in changing service uniforms, 1948 - 1956:

Moshe Dayan, circa. Aug 1948-Oct. 1949: as a Lieut.-Col. wearing the light khaki American shirt with two "falafels" indicating his rank (I have yet to confirm if this stitched version of the shoulder strap ranks is really for dress as opposed to service uniforms). Note however, the straight-lined button flaps here.

Maj.-Gen. Moshe Carmel, circa. 1948: first commander on the Northern Region. A subject for comparison as he wears a rarely seen version of the service shirt at this time, with front pockets with cropped corners. These pocket designs were actually widespread on American-made shirts during the Second World War, and though not similar to the ones worn in the picture of the parade (with the President) above, Carmel also has pressed down the collar flaps of his shirt too. Later on, shirts with pockets of this cut will be visible on senior level officer uniforms.
Photo: Comay, p. 141
Moshe Dayan, as Chief of Staff inspecting troops following the Israeli victory in the Sinai Campaign, October 1956. Many interesting uniform details here (regarding the three officers in the foreground): first, note Dayan's [shortly to be replaced] light khaki dress uniform with pins, 1948 campaign ribbon and now with corner cut pockets - but with cloth (i.e. work/battle-dress) rank insignia, a frequent occurence in the IDF. Second, observe the officer (possibly Col. Asaf Simkhoni, commander of the Southern Region, shortly to killed in an air accident) to Dayan's right wearing the newly introduced olive colored uniform. The pockets on his shirt have flaps covering the buttons (like today's "Madei Alef" uniforms). Behind Dayan and to his left are two officers wearing the British khaki drill shirt as the work/battle-dress uniform of that time, like the kitted troops on inspection.

Chief of Staff Dayan, here wearing the new Israeli olive colored service uniform, and here too, all the buttons are hidden under flaps.

He bears the Sinai Campaign ribbon (next to the War of Independence ribbon), which would date this picture to 1957 until January 1958 (when Dayan was succeeded in his post by Chaim Laskov).

Further develoments, early 1950's: perhaps as early as 1950, the IDF started to incorporate the use of shoulder "tags" (known as "Tagei Katef" in Hebrew) as a means of displaying and identifying a soldier's assigned corps. The use of these devices was not new to the IDF, although in time it has become a relatively unique form of insignia to the IDF and seen rarely with other armed forces (perhaps the only other ones are the Singaporean and South African Defense Forces - both of whom received training from the IDF in later years): such devices were used on Jewish Brigade Group uniforms in the Second World War (a photo will be shown in the "Tag" section), and even the underground Irgun (also known as "Etzel") forces used these "tag" insignia. These "tags" were about 10-12 centimeters long, with either round or shield-shaped tips at the base, and attached only by their top edge, only to "Madei Alef" shirts, on the left side just beside the shoulder strap; on winter clothes they would be similarly attached to the left shoulder as well. In a separate section here we will cover the development and appearance of these tags. Around this time too, similar Regional Command patches were instituted on "Ceremonial" uniforms - and will also be shown in that section below.

Together with the incorporation of "tagei katef", the IDF also instituted sleeve patches for Sergeants and NCOs, which are worn on both service and work uniforms, on the upper sleeve (which side is a matter I'm still checking - there is a lot of inconsistency in actual wear). One source mentions the use of "profession patches" around this period, indicating a soldier's specialization, worn on his right sleeve. I have still to confirm that.

Photo: Allon, p. 187
Irgun fighters circa. 1946-1948: a good example of a short early style of "tag katef" (shoulder tag). In this case, their's is a formation-wide insignia, depicting the organization's emblem (a map of Trans-Jordan and Palestine-Eretz Israel, with a superimposed rifle and the words "Only Thus") and a bar to denote the bearer's actual unit, but positioned and fashioned in a manner that would later be instituted by the IDF.
Photo: Ziv & Gelber, p. 196
Army patrol in jeep, circa. 1950: one of the earliest examples of shoulder tags in wear that I could find. Also a good example of the frequent and ambiguous use and appearance (to this day) of service uniforms in a rough-and-tumble setting: the driver and beret-ed soldier standing at the rear both bear shoulder tags; the driver even wears two pins on his left pocket. Their shirts are slightly whiter than most of the other soldiers in the vehicle, who to judge by their buttons, may be wearing the British drill uniforms in a work/battle-dress capacity.
Photo: Ziv & Gelber, p. 197
Officers' Course graduates, 1950-51: all are probably wearing "Madei Alef" quality shirts, but the distinguishing feature here is the shoulder tag (and officer's shoulder strap sliders) worn on an identical looking shirt by instructor(?) kneeling third from left. The other graduates all wear the metal IDF emblem on a large white background on their berets.

[This page is being assembled while abroad and away from resources that I'd otherwise have at hand. While I confirm more details on service/dress uniforms I'll begin the chapter on battle-dress/work uniforms below:]


BATTLE-DRESS / WORK UNIFORMS ("MADEI-BET")
Although as of April 1952 the IDF has established clear distinctions between the appearance of service and work uniforms, as a general habit the military's work uniform ("Madei Bet") has often just been a discarded former service uniform - with some, but a bare minimum of insignia. Lack of insignia on work/battle dress uniforms fulfills two needs: the first, to make the uniform practical and not encumbered with unnecessary regalia; the second - as was also illustrated now in Lebanon - to keep the wearer's identity to the enemy as unknown as possible (in the more recent case, even shoulder strap ranks were remove to conceal the presence of officers). Until the actual separation of dress was instituted in 1952, this simple distinction in appearance was more or less what made one shirt a service shirt and another a work shirt (uniform).

In reality, as early as 1950, there really has been a specially made - or at least designated - "Madei Bet" uniform, and soldiers are issued at least one pair for wear during their service. However, for replacement purposes or for assignments involving much filth or dirt, discarded service uniforms are usually used (and therefore seen in many photographs). Especially in the first years of the IDF this practice served the military well, being starved as it was for funding in a state coping with the aftermath of war, regional economic boycott and the absorption of over a million new immigrants. Such a practice exists even to this day, with servicemen donning clothes with issue dates as far back as 35 years.

Here are some examples of military shirts used as battle dress uniforms from the period 1948 - 1949. All pictures are from after the establishment of the IDF (May 1948), though the inconsistencies in dress many be due to the initial presence of materials from numerous pre-State sources.

Photo: Ziv & Gelber, p. 162
Soldiers of the Alexandroni brigade, 1948: exhibiting a variety of uniforms (and kitting) worn. One fighter wears a tunic over his shirt, two others don light khaki shirts and trousers, with others in even lighter shirts and shorts. I'm checking the origins of the clothes and will add more details here as they become available.
Photo: Ziv & Gelber, p. 177
Soldiers in the Negev, 1948: another example of varied field wear: the soldier on the left is wearing a British khaki drill shirt, probably with American khaki shorts; the soldier beside him in an Arab "Keffiyeh" and tee-shirt may be wearing British shorts judging by their waist straps; beside him, also in a "Keffiyeh", is a soldier in standard American styled shirt and shorts of the time, though sporting the Arab Legion badge on his "Keffiyeh" (probably captured elsewhere as the Arab Legion fought on the West Bank area, although this is not their "Keffiyeh", which is chequered white and red) and a belt which looks like a Third Reich Luftwaffe type.

The soldier on the far right wears a collared shirt of a popular style of that time which unfortunately, with two pockets and such buttons, I've only seen in the form of a German Army M41 shirt.
Photo: Ziv & Gelber, p. 162
Ariel Sharon in 1948 as a platoon commander in the Alexandroni brigade. A more detailed view of the popular collared shirt design, here with no pockets - looking therefore like a British Army [other ranks] 3-button woollen shirt. With visible pocket buttons on his pants it looks like he's wearing the British Army 1940 issue.




On "ATA Stores" Supplies
One source (a "source" - an article on "IDF uniforms" in Wikipedia in Hebrew, unfortunately) suggests that certain khaki civilian clothes used in the War of Independence came from a factory called "ATA". ATA - an acronym for "Organizations of Produce from Our Land", a name given by Nobel Laureate Shay Agnon - was a factory which produced a series of day-wear and work clothes for civilians and youth movements, mostly khaki and gray for pants, and light blue and white for shirts; it eventually set up a chain of stores called "ATA" ("Khanuyot Ata" - Ata Stores) which sold its goods, mostly in the 1950's and '60s. See first picture and top description in Yediot Achronot (in Hebrew) here.

As we shall see just after this section, Israeli uniforms were appropriately labelled as such from the beginning: as early as 1949 Army uniforms had military markings applied, and period photographs from 1947-48, after the UN decision to partition Eretz Israel and the beginning of the War of Independence, but before the declaration of independence itself, show military policemen already sporting "MP" brassards as if an actual entity called "the army" existed. Therefore, it's highly unlikely un-military marked clothes were [widely] used in any Israeli conflict, so I would dismiss this above postulation. Nevertheless, to broaden our awareness, below are some pictures of an ATA produced light-green pair of shorts (probably from 1953).

Photo: Historama.com
Front view of the ATA shorts. One of the themes in its design is its relative similarity to British military uniforms, like the double front button fastening.
Photo: Historama.com
The front of the ATA shorts when open: it has a button-down fly consisting of three buttons concealed by a flap, and an extra button sewn into the inside waist.
Photo: Historama.com
Rear view of the ATA shorts, showing one integrated pocket with an angular button-down flap.
Photo: Historama.com
Side view of the ATA shorts, revealing one of the two side slit pockets and the rear pocket. The shorts have 5 belt loops around the waist.

Photo: Historama.com
ATA shorts buttons similar in style to World War II era British army uniform plastic buttons (see above on this page for samples).
Photo: Historama.com
ATA factory label sewn into the lining of the shorts: the label says "Sanforized" in English and Hebrew and has the emblem of the ATA "Kurdana" factory (in northern Israel) flanked on either side by the ATA company logo in English and Hebrew.
Photo: Historama.com
An ATA factory stamp marking possibly refering to the manufacture date and location.
Photo: Historama.com
More stamps and markings seeming to relate to the shorts's size and supplier code (the latter in relation to the era's austerity period and rationing of consumer goods).




The First Work/Battle-Dress Uniform
Based on physical examples on hand, it looks like the IDF's first proper work/battle-dress uniform was a light-khaki domestically produced outfit. With information at the time of this writing being scant, I can't say exactly when these uniforms were introduced (i.e. whether they were worn before 1949, or if they were worn before the armistice of February-March 1949, or only afterwards). Period photographs don't show clearly any of the specific details we will see below now. But for the purposes of our study, we have a set of pants dated June 1949 and a shirt dated January 1950 to go by.

Stylistically, the cut of these "madei Bets" is quite different to that of the Alefs seen so far. Pocket flaps in particular are angular both on the front of the shirt and the rear of the pants on the first Israeli-made work uniforms - actually a rare cut on IDF uniforms, as they mostly have straight lined flaps. Regarding pant rears in particular (a rather abstract subject!), period American khaki's either had a straight-lined stitched slit pocket integrated into the rear of the pants, or no rear pocket at all.

Regarding markings, both pieces display a standardized cloth army-issued tag bearing the Hebrew word for 'Army' - "Tzava" - together with a date underneath (month/year), next to the entry space for the size and the suppliers name below. The shirt in this case also has the Hebrew letter 'Tzadi' (for the first letter of 'Army') stamped inside together with what are probably a 2-digit size number and a supplier/manufacturer code. Later in the 1950's, work/battle-dress shirts would also be stamped on the front with the Hebrew word for 'IDF' ("Tzahal").

Photo: Historama.com
Front view of the pants: they have a concealed button-down fly and five circa. 5cm long pant loops around the waist. Interestingly, the stitch lines are visible along the length of each pant loop. There is a slit side pocket on either side of the pants, almost parallel to the verticle seam-line (on American service khakis, or Ya'akov Dori's above, the slits are more at an angle, like 80-85 degrees).
Photo: Historama.com
The front buttons of the pants: the fly consists of five buttons plus one at the top to fasten the pants shut. Although some of the buttons have been replaced the two light-beige ones under the top button may be the originals; they are also similar is style to the dark brown bottom button.
Photo: Historama.com
The pants when open: there is an additional swatch of fabric along the crotch, the remnants of one army label tag above the rear pocket on the left and another attached to the lining of the side pocket on the right (the labels are identical in size and template though their details differ - see below). Note also that the back pockets are made of the main denim-like fabric while the side pockets are made of light white cotton.
Photo: Historama.com
Rear view of the pants: the two rear pockets with angular flaps are visible, along with the slits of the two side pockets. Interestingly, though the rear pockets are missing the buttons, none appear to have ever been stitched on. Note the peculiar stitch line part of the way down the center of the rear pockets - probably designed to tighten the fit of the pants on the wearer.

Photo: Historama.com
Front of the khaki shirt: with a six button front (the lowest button is missing) and two front pockets with angular flaps. The buttons look American styled as per the examination of buttons above on this page, and are in a carmel/butternut color.
Photo: Historama.com
The inside of the shirt: the remains of a thin label are visible on the back of the collar; the letter "Tzadi" is stamped on the rear and side shirt tail along with what seems to be a 2-digit size number and another [supplier?] code.
Photo: Historama.com
A close-up of the khaki shirt buttons, collar and shoulder details: note the stitch lines pockets, collars and shoulder straps. The straps are straight-lined with angular tips.
Photo: Historama.com
Rear of the khaki shirt: the cuffs are buttoned; the army's supply label is visible at the edge of what is the right flap of the shirt front. The stamps on the inside shirt-tails are slightly visible through the fabric. Note the indented cuts into the shirt's sides.

Photo: Historama.com
Detail of the pant leg and seam lines.
Photo: Historama.com
The Army's supply label: both the pants and shirt of this type of work/battle-dress uniform used the same style of label. On the pants, it appears both above the right rear pocket (on the inside lining of the pants) and on the inside lining of the left side pocket. The label on the side pocket lining has the word "army" - "Tzava" printed in large Hebrew letters, with the date of manufacture in a thin field underneath (month/year, "6/49" - June 1949), and to the left of these fields, half the label space is allotted for the manufacturer's name. In this case, it appears to be "Moshe Prufal". The label on the back pocket lining looks identical, with the word "Tzahal" in large letters, but instead of the manufacturer's name it has what appears to be the size - "7" - in that large field.
Photo: Historama.com
Khaki shirt label details: almost identical in style and size to the army's manufacturer label described above, except that here both a field for "size" and "supplier" (not "manufacturer") appear: the size is "41", the supplier's name is left empty; the date is 1/50 - January 1950.
Photo: Historama.com
Kahki shirt stamp details: unlike the pants, the shirt does not have two similar Army labels (although the thin one at the collar remains unknown to us for now). However, it does have the letter "Tzadi" next two a 4-digit and a 2-digit code stamped twice on the inside. The 2-digit code may be the size (oddly mismatching that on the label); the 4-digit code may be the manufacturer or supplier.

The British Drill Uniform
Although I have not been able to establish firm timelines as yet, the domestically produced Bet uniforms were probably phased out around 1950-51. Apart from using the odd cast-off service uniform for work purposes, the IDF began to institute the mass use of coarse denim uniforms of a light-khaki type, with large dark buttons for work and battle-dress purposes - the British khaki drill shirt. These were made as early as 1941 and came in two forms: a shirt type with two front pockets (as used in the IDF) and a tunic version with four pockets (the additional two being at the bottom portion of the tunic, which as a shirt would normally tucked into the pants).

A departure in style from the previous domestic make, the cut of these uniforms set the course for the design of future "Bet" and "Alef" uniforms: shirts with two front pockets and pants with a large 'cargo' pocket on each side. The shoulder straps on these uniforms specifically also had curved tips as opposed to the angular ends of the domestic issues from before.

From photographs it appears that these uniforms began to bear the stamp "IDF" in large Hebrew letters around 1955-56 just before the Sinai Campaign in October of 1956. In some cases the letters appear just over the front pocket on the right side and in others just over the left. Over time, over the years and formats, the initials have settled just above the left pocket. And from that period onward, the defining hallmark of a work/battle-dress uniform - regardless of its material, regardless of whether it was really a service uniform - became the presence of the name "IDF" on the uniform. Only work/battle-dress uniforms bear these initials on them.

The location and appearance of the IDF initials in photographs also lets the viewer know if the picture has been inverted (as is sometimes the case in press photography): as long as the IDF initials are in this order from right to left - צה''ל - the picture is not inversed and reflects the original location of all insignia. If the letters in the picture are backwards however, the the details in reality would have been in the opposite sides to what appears in the picture.

Photo: Ziv & Gelber, p. 198
IDF Soldiers in drill marches circa. 1950: in Brodie-styled helmets (difficult to say if British but most of the early ones I've seen are entirely British including the chin straps) and wearing the newly instituted British drill khaki shirts (but no "IDF" stamp) as their "Madei Bets" - except for the third from left who actually appears to wear a service uniform instead. The troop looks somewhat disheveled with the soldier at the right edge marching with shirt sticking out; what seems to be some soldiers buttoning their shirts right to the top may just be a matter of convenience: on these shirts the next button down is so far down as to leave the shirt too open.
Photo: Comay, p. 27
Moshe Dayan in a different setting: the Chief of Staff digging trenches prior to the Sinai Campaign, circa. 1955. The Hebrew letters "IDF" are just visible over the pocket, unusually, on the right side of his uniform. In a separate picture below we will see the new styled shoulder strap ranks on work uniforms, but here it looks as if he may not be wearing them at all.
Photo: Comay, p. 136
With the President of Israel, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and his wife at a captured gun emplacement at Ras Nasrani just after the October 1956 campaign. Here, the two soldiers just alongside the President wear their "Madei Bets" with the IDF stamp on the left side. To judge by their age, these are all probably officer or senior NCOs who happen to not be wearing any identifying ranks on their shoulder-straps.

This picture also gives us clearer details of the design of these and future "Bet" and "Alef" uniforms, particularly with the presence of the large 'cargo' pockets on the pant sides. With the pant pockets located exactly at the sides, it's very comfortable for soldiers to shove their hands in their pockets and now, even in civilian life, one can always spot out the former sergeants because they still try to stick their hands into their pant sides. Later pants for service and work would also include an additional smaller pocket beneath the left side pocket for a bandage.

Photo: Comay, p. 26 "Madei Bet" shoulder straps: two scenes from the same period, 1955-56, in which work/battle-dress styled shoulder strap rank insignia are visible. On the left is a Colonel (three "falafels"), whose work uniform bears "IDF" on the right side, and his new-styled rank insignia is printed in green on a light-khaki cloth slider. On the right is a Lieut.-Col. (two "falafels") possibly in an un-stamped work uniform but displaying the same printed cloth slider on his shirt, stringing barb-wire with the Prime Minister, Ben Gurion, who himself is wearing a by then out of date winter/ceremonial tunic uniform.

From this period onward, any uniform worn with such printed officer ranks (on a cloth slider) indicates a work/battle-dress uniform - both if bearing the "IDF" letters above a pocket or not.
Photo: Comay, p. 26

Photo: Comay, p. 113 Jubilant soldiers, 1956: celebrating at the end of the October Sinai campaign - and their festivity affords us a look at interesting uniform details. The olive Israeli uniforms introduced a few years earlier and seen so far only in the service dress variety appear here among the standard light-khaki denims of that time. The olive uniforms here may be discarded service pieces, but one detail which distinguishes between them every generation or so is the visibility of pocket buttons: service issues normally (not always) have pocket flaps which hide the buttons. One of the soldiers in the background here has a small shine on his chest and that may be a button - indicating that he's wearing the actual battle-dress version of the olive uniforms.

Another interesting detail is the pleated pockets of the soldier in the foreground (apple in hand) wearing the British drill shirt: though these shirts were made in mass with pleated pockets most of those which came to Israel as "Madei Bet" uniforms had flat pockets. Also note that his pocket flaps are straight. Also visible is the shoulder strap design of this uniform as seen on the soldier behind him - the rounded tips.

Photo: Ziv & Gelber, p. 238
From 1950 through to 1967 the ground forces wore a mixture of the khaki British drill uniforms and the olive colored Israeli ones, albeit with minor alterations in design, particularly in the khaki ones. This picture depicts soldiers on the Egyptian front in the June 1967 War: while their "Madei Bets" still bear the large dark British buttons, the pocket flaps here are angular - perhaps a locally introduced variation. Many pictures prior to 1966-67 show such uniforms still with straight flaps (though few so far also with pleated pockets as in the picture above).
Photo: Ziv & Gelber, p. 244
Wartime "conference" in the field: Southern regional commander Maj.-Gen. Yeshayahu Gavish (right corner) and the commander of the 84th (armoured) division, Maj.-Gen. Israel Tal (left corner) and Col. Mordechai Tzipori (leaning, center) around a map.

Interesting uniform details here attesting to a certain informality and mixture in the field: Gavish wears the Israeli olive "Madei Bet", whose rough rugged edges are visible on the sleeve seams, with the printed shoulder insignia slider; Tal is in his "Madei Alefs" insofar that he wears the "Alef" version shoulder insignia with metal pieces, and that his uniform fabric looks "softer" and akin to the "Alef" manufacture. Tzipori, with printed shoulder straps is in his now-old British styled "Bets", as is the officer (without strap insignia) behind him.

Next to and behind Tal is a Colonel and a 1st-Lieutenant both in "Bet" uniforms though interestingly, with angled pocket flaps and hidden buttons, the fabric of which is similar to Tal's and therefore perhaps actually "Alef" uniforms being used as battle-dress. In the rear is an Air Force Lieut.-Col. in service uniform.

Photo: Ziv & Gelber, p. 245 The contemporary work / battle-dress uniform: Maj.-Gen. Yeshayahu Gavish in the then "new" Madei Bet uniform of that time, 1967 (overlooking the Suez Canal), the freshness of which is visible by its shine in the light.

This is the earliest photograph I've come across depicting the "IDF" initials in their new format on the olive work uniforms. When these new tags came out, they were narrow rectangular thin cloth patches stitched over the left pocket of "Bet" uniforms, with the letters in light yellow. This pattern of patch existed from 1967 to around 1997, when the lettering was changed to black.

Gavish's uniform here conforms to the standard appearance of how "Bet" uniforms should look, then and since: straight-flapped pockets, with visible buttons - both on the shirt and pants, and the now usual printed shoulder strap ranks for officers. As with a typical new "Bet" uniform it looks shiny and oversized on the wearer (note the generous sleeve rolls), with seam lines visible on the shoulders and pockets. With wear, these uniforms grow rough and starchy, with a denim-like look, and their olive color fades into shades of brown, khaki and gray. Unlike its forerunner, the olive "Bets" are thiner and lighter in make, though extremely durable.

Photo: Ziv & Gelber, p. 255 The "Madei Bets" blend in with their surroundings: the Defense Minister (and former Chief of Staff) Moshe Dayan flanked by the then Chief of Staff, Yitzhak Rabin (right), and Maj.-Gen. Uzi Narkis, head of the Central Regional command, June 1967. All three look similarly dressed, but only one is in "Madei Bets": Narkis, with larger buttons, straight pocket flaps on the shirt, and bulky side pant pockets is in his "Bets", although his lack the newly instituted "IDF" patch; he's also wearing the printed cloth shoulder straps (on his right pocket is his name tag - a short lived accessory worn by various General Staff members at that time). Rabin, though in a uniform with exposed buttons, is in his "Alefs": with smaller buttons, side cropped shirt pockets and non-protruding pant pockets. He also obviously wears his campaign ribbons, para-wings and embossed shoulder strap ranks. Dayan, in appropriate attire, is sporting an unadorned "Alef" uniform - also with small buttons, possibly with cropped shirt pockets, and non-protruding side pant pockets.